Monday, June 26, 2017
Andrew Gallix in the Irish Times reviews Retrotopia, the final book by Zygmunt Bauman (RIP)
"The sociologist had long argued that a loss of faith in society’s perfectibility was one of the main distinctions between the “solid” and “liquid” phases of modernity, a theme that he reprises and expands on here. His argument hinges on the “emancipation of power from territory”, as a result of which nation states, with increasingly “porous” borders, are no longer able to fulfil their traditional functions. This political impotence, compounded by the stupefying pace of change, has redirected the utopian impulse towards the “space of collective memory”. We take refuge in the past because it can be “remodelled at will”, thus providing the “blissful omnipotence lost in the present”.
The future is now associated not with progress but with stasis or regression. At best it seems to offer more of the same; at worst it holds out the prospect of “social degradation” and “impending catastrophe”. Hence the privatisation of happiness, sought no longer through collective endeavours but through self-improvement and personal “wellness”
.... Social in name only, our online networks offer another ersatz brand of communality, acting as they do as filter bubbles, providing insulation from any views likely to challenge our easily bruised egos. Such comfort zones are “as close to the nirvana of the womb” as we can get. Indeed, a return to the safety of the womb is the logical conclusion of a series of reactionary trends taking us back to a world of “weakening human bonds”, tribalism and growing inequalities – a Hobbesian “war of all against all”.
... Bauman suggests that retrotopianism is largely due to our failure to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, despite living in a cosmopolitan world."
I deployed Bauman's liqud modernity versus solid modernity dichotomy in this piece on David Toop, for which I read two or three of ZB's books (he was incredibly prolific). Found them really interesting but a little fixated - he was a bit like the Status Quo or ZZ Top of social theory.
Gallix's identifications of ZB's several flaws seems right on the money - the repetitiousness, windy language, generalisations.